An Externship Tale

I love hearing about students and their experiences. This is a very enjoyable post from Blythe Robinson, a student who had an externship with our Yosemite Park team.

Yosemite National Park is my Notre Dame – it is Mother Nature’s greatest gift to this world. As I drove in to Yosemite Valley on Monday, Nov. 23, 2009, I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. Every turn on Highway 140 revealed a view more impressive than the last. This was not my first trip into the valley, for some reason though this was the most vivid and impressive of my experiences. I couldn’t believe I was going to get to work in such a special place.

My nerves were causing my stomach to churn as I pulled in to the parking lot in front of the Human Resources office for Delaware North Companies. It was my first day of my externship for the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).

I quickly filled out all my paperwork with HR, was fitted for my uniforms and then was told to call the Chef. This was it. I was finally going to meet the Chef and see where I’d be working for the next two months. I don’t know why, but I walked in the kitchen shaking with nerves. I asked to see the Chef and somebody introduced me to Sous Chef Paul Janeway. He shook my hand and that’s about all I remember. My nerves had gotten the better of me and I was doing everything in my power to remain composed. I remember thinking to myself the kitchen was huge, but I wouldn’t know until my first day of work that I’d only seen half. Chef Paul took me upstairs to meet Chef Percy who greeted me with a firm handshake and a smile. We went over the details of when I would start work. My first day was to be Thanksgiving. We finished our conversation and both Chef Percy and Chef Paul looked at me and told me to stop being so nervous, and that they didn’t bite. We laughed, I was still nervous. Then we said goodbye until Thursday.

When I walked in the kitchen Thursday, it was a mad house. I had no idea where I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to do. There were so many cooks working like a well-oiled machine, pumping out Thanksgiving dinner for 1,000 guests. Being the new extern that day made me more of an inconvenience than a helping hand, but I sure did learn a lot. Everyone worked hard and fast that day and we all went home tired.  I came in the next afternoon ready to do it all over again, only to be told that I was supposed to have been there at 6am to work the buffet omelet station. I was embarrassed that I’d screwed my schedule up on my second day, but it wasn’t a big deal. Since they weren’t expecting me to be working in the afternoon, there wasn’t much for me to do. I helped Sous Chef Reggie Powell sheet-out and hand cut pounds and pounds of black truffle tagliatelli pasta. It was my first time working with a sheeter, and I had a hard time keeping up with Chef Reggie as he sheeted out the pasta and I cut it into the correct shape. I knew my experience at The Ahwahnee would force me to work faster, and here was my first proof. Turns out the pasta we were working on would be for one of the Vintners dinners – a special event with which I was very excited to assist.

I was lucky my two short months of externship fell during the holiday season. I was able to take part in Vintners Dinners, Bracebridge, and Chef’s Holidays. I learned so much from each of the different events, but I think I took the most out of Bracebridge. Not only did we have to work fast when we were plating, we had to work fast to get through all the prep required to feed 2,400 people. I mainly worked on scaling out and forming oxtail pastries. It was tedious and never-ending work, but it taught me patience and speed. The faster and more precisely I worked, the faster the monotonous task would be finished. During Chef’s Holidays I worked with many different visiting chefs and their menus. I learned many new and interesting techniques and methods, and I made sure to ask many questions. I learned so much from each chef who came and worked with us, simply because of his or her unique, personal styles.

I can’t imagine having the same kind of experience anywhere else. The Ahwahnee is unique in that it has so many different events that no other restaurant, or even hotel, would have. I am honored to have worked with Chef Percy and his staff, even though it was for such a short amount of time. I am looking forward to returning to Yosemite as soon as I graduate from the Bachelors program at the CIA.

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